Time to decide
It is sad that the Anglican Communion has, yet again, chosen to go to war with itself about gay clergy. That it is the Reverend Jeffrey John who is once more being used to cause this fuss is a personal tragedy for him and emphasises the way in which this vicious debate has taken on a personalised and rather un-Christian tone.
Reverend John is a self-declared celibate homosexual, choosing not to express his relationship with his civil partner physically so he can continue in his vocation as a priest. In 2003 he was nominated for the Suffragan Bishopric of Reading – just two months later he was forced to withdraw himself as a candidate because of attacks and criticism from evangelicals here and from reactionary Anglicans in Africa and the US. This sad tale repeated itself this week when it was leaked that John would be a candidate to be Bishop of Southwark (Demos’ very own diocese) only to be forced off the list.
The Anglican Communion cannot go on like this. Keeping gay clergy in limbo – especially those, like John, who have given up a full and sexual life in order to work for the church – is cruel and unforgiveable. Either gay men and women have the gifts to minister within the church or they do not; if they do then it is quite wrong to say that they may do so as priests but never as bishops.
My personal preference would be that the Anglican Communion, which I am proud to belong to, faced up to the reality of their position and were stronger in their support for gay and lesbian clergy. Far better, surely, to have the courage of their convictions and to preach a gospel of tolerance and love than to live in perpetual fear of reactionary criticism. But if they can’t do that – if they feel that keeping their evangelical, African and US members happy is more important than supporting their gay clergy – the Communion should be clear in where they stand on homosexuality. If they will never be able to treat gay men and women as equals before God then they should stop patronizing good people like Jeffrey John with false hope and instead tell them to leave. To sit precariously on the fence is not simply cowardly, it is cruel to gay men and women who are told they have a place in the church whilst being excluded by its deeds.